North Korea Missile Test: It’s Not About Hitting the US — It’s About Hitting Japan Or South Korea

North Korea threatens to build an ICBM, President-elect Trump goes wild. North Korea actually tests a missile that could hit Japan or South Korea, President Trump says nothing. The world is shocked Trump doesn’t “go ballistic” and approves. But to Pyongyang and China, Trump’s silence indicates he’s “all talk and no action,” especially after his New Year’s Day bluster. Here, South Koreans in Seoul watch a news broadcast about the North Korean missile test.

“I assume they don’t have a strategy yet, so Trump with Abe by his side was properly taciturn, surprisingly so,”

said Jeffrey A. Bader, an Asia scholar at the Brookings Institution who served as President Barack Obama’s Asia adviser.

“But that can’t hold. At some point you need to articulate a strategy.”

The tempered response may also have reflected the fact that

the missile launched on Sunday by North Korea was either a medium- or an intermediate-range missile,

according to the American military, and not an intercontinental missile, or ICBM, capable of reaching the United States.

The missile flew 310 miles before dropping harmlessly into the Sea of Japan,

according to the South Korean military, which identified it as an intermediate-range Musudan.

North Korea regularly tests missiles in violation of United Nations resolutions, including roughly two dozen last year,

but has boasted that it could test an ICBM “anytime and anywhere.”

The kind tested on Sunday poses a potential threat to American allies in Japan and South Korea and American forces in the Pacific, but could not strike the US.

“It’s yet unclear what missile was tested,” said Thomas Karako, a missile expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

“What is certain is that North Korea has now begun 2017 by continuing the aggressive pace of missile testing they’ve shown in recent years.”

North Korea challenged Obama early in his tenure, too, with an underground nuclear blast four months after he took office.

The effect was to harden Obama’s attitude toward North Korea for the rest of his presidency, according to former aides.

Rather than try to negotiate, as both Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush did,

Obama focused on tightening international sanctions and bolstering alliances with Japan and South Korea.

Three weeks in office, the Trump administration is still trying to find its footing on foreign policy,

especially in areas like North Korea that have not been Trump’s main focus.

Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson was sworn in on Feb. 1 and does not even have a deputy, much less a full team of trusted advisers, in place.

Asia experts and members of Congress praised Trump for reaffirming American support for Japan

but lamented that he did not mention South Korea at the same time.

“I was glad he issued the statement with the prime minister of Japan, but he ought to do it quickly with South Korea,”

Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader, said on “Face the Nation” on CBS.

“South Korea is probably more susceptible to North Korea’s virulence than any other country.”

White House officials on Sunday remained quiet about the test and their emerging strategy …

Short of military action, the menu of options available for Trump is not significantly better than it was for his predecessors.

The US and the UN have already imposed an array of wrenching sanctions

and have largely isolated North Korea from much of the world.

On his first overseas trip since taking office, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis visited Japan and South Korea to reassure them of America’s support

despite statements by Trump during the campaign that called it into question.

South Korean officials agreed to press ahead with development of a new missile defense system called Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or Thaad.

Most policy makers consider China crucial to any meaningful response to North Korea, given the nations’ extensive economic and political connections,

but it remains uncertain that Trump would have any better chance of persuading Beijing to take tougher action.

Trump had a fence-mending telephone call with President Xi Jinping of China last week

and promised to stick by America’s longstanding “One China” policy, reportedly at Tillerson’s urging.

But the president has been an unrelenting critic of China on trade and currency matters,

and some of his top advisers, including Stephen K. Bannon, his chief strategist, view China as a long-term adversary.

“We will learn an enormous amount about his policy and his administration by how he deals with North Korea,”

said Evan S. Medeiros, a managing director at the Eurasia Group and a former Obama adviser.

“It’s the land of really bad options, and the threat is only becoming more serious and the window is closing.

It will probably become the defining security challenge for the next president in Asia, if not globally.””

Source: Trump Responds to North Korean Missile Launch With Uncharacteristic Restraint – The New York Times